Clandestine Cold War Unit Honored At Fort Bragg

Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite 1956-1990 by James Stejskal. Available at Amazon here.

David Maxwell’s review, “DET-A”: Applied Unconventional Warfare In Berlin and Beyond in the Cold War, is here.

Clandestine Cold War unit honored at Fort Bragg · by Drew Brooks

Drew Brooks Military editor @DrewBrooksNot quite a year after the Berlin Wall was opened, soldiers of the U.S. Army Physical Security Support Element-Berlin left the city without any fanfare.

The end of the wall, which had divided Berlin both physically and ideologically for decades, was a sign of the end of the Cold War. And the resulting “peace dividend” spelled the end for special units like the PSSE-B.

On the outside, the unit was tasked with providing security assessments of U.S. government buildings from South Africa to England. But its members had a secret.

The PSSE-B was actually the 410th Special Forces Detachment, a clandestine group of Green Berets tasked with unconventional warfare and counterterrorism, including a so-called “stay behind” mission in the event of a Soviet invasion.

The unit was the successor to a similar clandestine force, the 39th Special Forces Operational Detachment, often simply known as “Detachment A,” which operated in Berlin from 1956 to 1984.

On Monday at Fort Bragg — 34 years after the 410th Special Forces Detachment formed and nearly 28 years since it was inactivated — members of the secretive unit gathered for the first time to celebrate their accomplishments and honor the unit’s legacy.

The public acknowledgement of the unit was something its veterans, like retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Stejskal, never fathomed in the years immediately following the Cold War.

Like its predecessor, Detachment A, the 410th Special Forces Detachment was inactivated without ceremony, said Stejskal, who served with both units and later with the CIA before retiring.

Stejskal authored a book about the two secretive units titled “Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956 – 1990.”

On Monday, with dozens of veterans of the detachment in the audience, officials from U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the former unit unveiled a memorial stone, laid a wreath and officially furled the detachment colors.

Maj. Gen. James E. Kraft Jr., the deputy commanding general of USASOC, accepted the colors from retired Col. Mercer “Mac” Dorsey, the detachment’s first commanding officer.

While handing off the colors, Kraft said Dorsey softly said just two words: “Mission accomplished.”

“Those were pretty powerful words. Simple. Elegant. Definitive,” Kraft said.

The general said the ceremony was a celebration of the unit’s legacy, which builds on the greater legacy of Army special operations.

Working clandestinely behind enemy lines “requires an incredible amount of professionalism, dedication, dogged determination and a wiliness to sacrifice everything you care about in life for the mission at hand,” Kraft said.

The 410th Special Forces Detachment embodied missions that continue to serve as the pillars of Army special operations, he said, including working with indigenous populations, precision targeting, developing a deep understanding and yielding influence in select parts of the world and countering terrorism.

The soldiers “embodied not only who we are but where we are going,” Kraft said.

The memorial stone, which was covered with an East German flag before it was unveiled, joins more than 30 other stones honoring past and present special operations units in the Memorial Plaza.

The 410th Special Forces Detachment stone includes both of the unit’s names, a map of a divided Berlin, two arrows crossing a dagger to symbolize Special Forces and a Trojan horse to symbolize the unit’s unique mission.

The stone also includes the dates of the unit history and the words “In honor of the men who clandestinely served deep behind the Iron Curtain to safeguard our freedoms. They stayed until the job was finished and left before the devil knew they were ever there.”

The idea for the memorial stone came in January 2014, Stejskal said. That’s when a similar stone for Detachment A was unveiled in the Memorial Plaza.

Stejskal said the new stone helps to tell “the rest of the story.”

Detachment A was inactivated following concerns with the unit’s operational security, officials said.

Like their predecessors, soldiers of the 410th Special Forces Detachment sometimes dressed in civilian clothes and were tasked with fitting in with the styles, etiquette and other behaviors of those who lived in the divided city located 100 miles behind the Iron Curtain.

The unit was continuously on high alert and was called to respond to the hijacking of TWA 847 in 1985, the hijacking of the cruise ship MS Achille Lauro in 1985 and the La Belle Disco bombing in 1986.

The soldiers constantly balanced their public mission to assess American diplomatic compounds with their classified missions to counter terrorism and prepare for all-out war.

In the event of World War III, the soldiers would be tasked with slipping behind the Soviet front lines to wreak havoc and target key facilities and infrastructure.

Like Detachment A — whose total historical roster numbers approximately 800 men — the 410th Special Forces Detachment was also a relatively small unit with a vast and important mission, Stejskal said. Its veterans likely number fewer than 250 soldiers.

“This is like a family reunion,” he said as veterans posed for photographs after the ceremony.

Retired Sgt. Maj. Don Robblee, a former senior enlisted leader for the detachment, said the unit went through painstaking efforts to conceal its true purpose.

“Things aren’t always what they seem,” he said.

The unit only recruited the best to join its ranks, he said, pulling soldiers from the Army’s most elite units.

The mission wasn’t easy, Robblee added.

“But we done a pretty darn good job of it,” he said. “We were on a great adventure.”

Stejskal, reading a letter from Col. William Davis, the detachment’s first executive officer who was unable to attend the ceremony, said the men of the detachment were extraordinary.

“The nature of what we did, with what we had, made our unit one that is legend,” Davis wrote.

“It is very uncommon and frankly uncomfortable in our community to talk about being rare,” he added. “We were very special indeed.”

Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at or 486-3567. · by Drew Brooks

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